Four Biblical Keys to Understanding World Events
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The word tectonic is defined as "having a strong and widespread impact."
Most geopolitical experts would agree we have witnessed three tectonic shifts in world politics in the last three decades:
• Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 revolution in Iran that spawned the spread of radical Islam to the far corners of the world.
• The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 that freed Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics in the northern Middle East.
• The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States that led to the war on terror, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Are we seeing a fourth shift before our eyes?
Now we are witnessing a possible fourth tectonic shift—the worldwide financial crisis that has been described by many economists as the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
How great is this latest shift? Half of the world's wealth in the financial markets disappeared in 2008—some $50 trillion. "This crisis is the first truly universal one in the history of humanity," stated former International Monetary Fund chief Michel Camdessus. "No country escapes from it. It has not yet bottomed out" ("Global Financial Assets Lost 50 Trillion Last Year," Bloomberg News Service, March 9, 2009).
No one knows how much longer it will last or, due to unprecedented global government deficit spending, how much long-term damage will be done to the world's economies. We could be observing the end of the free market system as we know it and the beginning of another that will have far more government involvement, control and regulation in many nations—including the United States. At least, that is the current trend.
Can we make sense of it all?
Wouldn't it be great to know certain tried-and-true biblical guidelines to properly analyze so many bewildering world events? Wouldn't you like to make sense of it all, to know where such trends are headed?
In Luke 21:29-36 Jesus Christ said, "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near... Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass..." (emphasis added throughout).
He was referring to future end-time events and warning us to be on the lookout for what is happening around us so we will not be lulled into complacency or deceived by leaders with smooth words or deceitful signs.
So how can we properly analyze world events? Here are four biblical keys:
1. Human nature has not changed for thousands of years.
The Bible is quite realistic when analyzing the human heart—meaning a person's inner motivations. It says in Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (New American Standard Bible).
Yes, the Bible says human nature is egocentric, deceitful and sick at its core, although few will admit to it. And nations are simply a collection of individuals guided primarily by self-interest.
In his classic book Politics Among Nations, the late professor Hans Morgenthau put it this way: "Human nature, in which the laws of politics have their roots, has not changed since the classic philosophies of China, India, and Greece endeavored to discover these laws" (1992, p. 4).
Why is human nature the way it is?
We have to go back to our original parents in the Garden of Eden. There they made a fateful decision for mankind when they chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life (Genesis 3:11-19). From that time, humanity has lived in a fallen world—one ruled largely by man's own greedy, selfish reasoning rather than by God's spiritual laws.
In fact, Romans 8:7 tells us, "And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God's law, and in fact they cannot obey it" (Good News Translation).
Despite all the "rose-colored glasses" views of humanity, the reality is that self-interest still rules supreme. We see this in the social, governmental, religious and financial world.
This principle is also strengthened by another factor that guides much of human nature—Satan's invisible influence. We read in Ephesians 2:1-2, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience."
Yes, the reality of world politics is that it is swayed by this powerful but perverse spirit being.
Satan even boasted to Jesus Christ about his influence on the earth's governments: "Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, 'All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish'" (Luke 4:5-6).
We often hear from political leaders that everything they do is motivated by the best of intentions for the welfare of everyone. We likewise often hear that human nature is intrinsically good. But good intentions and good feelings aren't enough. Look at the world around us. The global financial system, supposedly guided by the smartest among us, has ended up—mainly due to so much greed and corruption—in a severe economic crash.
Regarding world politics, do you remember what World War I was called? It was called "the war to end all wars." Yet nearly a century later, terrible wars still rage and have become far more deadly. Regardless of the best of intentions, the self-interest of human nature—its greed, deceitfulness, selfishness and self-deception—remains constant.
None of this is new. More than two centuries ago George Washington wrote: "A small knowledge of human nature will convince us, that, with far the greatest part of mankind, interest is the governing principle... Motives of public virtue may for a time, or in particular instances, actuate men to the observance of a conduct purely disinterested; but they are not of themselves sufficient to produce a persevering conformity...
"It is vain to exclaim against the depravity of human nature on this account; the fact is so, the experience of every age and nation has proved it and we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise. No institution, not built on the presumptive truth of these maxims can succeed" (The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 10, p. 363).
The moral is this: When watching global political events, we should remember that human nature has not changed and is essentially based on self-interest.
So don't be fooled by claims of nations or political leaders basing their policies on altruistic notions or the welfare of others. Acceptance of such assurances has often led to catastrophic results—such as Britain's Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler that, among other factors, eventually led to World War II.
A more modern example was U.S. President Jimmy Carter's naïve view of the Soviets that contributed to their invasion of Afghanistan. After he told the American people they had to dispel "an inordinate fear of communism," the Soviet leaders listened and felt they now had a freer hand to bully their neighbors.
Two years later, in 1979, they invaded Afghanistan with the intention of making it part of the Soviet empire. After his initial shock, Carter exclaimed about the Soviet premier, Leonid Brezhnev, "I can't believe he lied to me." Yet if he had considered the Soviet ideology and self-interest, he would have been more careful.
This takes us to the second key, which follows naturally from the first.
2. Each nation seeks its own self-interest and exercises power to that end.
Jesus Christ spoke bluntly about the reality of politics and national leaders. "You know that in this world kings are tyrants," He told His disciples, "and officials lord it over the people beneath them" (Matthew 20:25, New Living Translation).
The exercise of power may sometimes be subtle rather than overt—but it is still primarily based on self-interest and control.
"Power may comprise anything that establishes and maintains the control of man over man," wrote Professor Morgenthau. "Thus power covers all social relationships which serve that end, from physical violence to the most subtle psychological ties by which one mind controls the other... For if we look at all nations, our own included, as political entities pursuing their respective interests defined in terms of power, we are able to do justice to all of them... we are then capable of pursuing policies that respect the interests of other nations, while protecting and promoting those of our own" (Politics Among Nations, pp. 9-11).
Sadly, few nations are able to exercise their power without abusing it. So don't be surprised when you see the misuse of power by the mighty. It has been going on for millennia.
Almost 3,000 years ago King Solomon noted, "Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter—on the side of their oppressors there is power, but they have no comforter" (Ecclesiastes 4:1).
Yet this "oppression" will usually be cloaked under lofty ideals. "All nations are tempted," added Professor Morgenthau, "and few have been able to resist the temptation for long—to clothe their own particular aspirations and actions in the moral purposes of the universe" (p. 11).
As Proverbs 21:2 tells us, "Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." Yes, it is part of human nature to disguise with good intentions and high moral goals what it often wants for selfish reasons.
So we should be very skeptical when leaders take drastic actions that have long-term consequences under the guise of having others' "best interests at heart." It's always good to have a healthy skepticism and look for what are their best interests under the circumstances to judge what is being done.
This leads us, then, to the third key for understanding world events.
3. Each nation expresses its own interest through its national character.
Nations generally have certain character traits that do not change over time. What is embedded in the national character of a people will continue through the centuries.
The Chinese have not essentially changed their way or culture of doing things and neither have the British, Americans, French, Germans, Russians, Africans, Hispanics or Arabs.
The famous English poet and philosopher Samuel Coleridge wrote in describing this national character: "There is an invisible spirit that breathes through a whole people, and is participated by all, though not by all alike; a spirit which gives a color and character both to their virtues and vices, so that the same action, such I mean as are expressed by the same words, are yet not the same in a Spaniard as they would be in a Frenchman" (Essays on His Own Times, 1850, Vol. 2, pp. 668-669).
The Bible expresses the national character of a people by comparing it to the attributes of different animals. In Genesis 49, for example, several of the tribes of Israel are compared to diverse animals. In Daniel 7:4-7, the Bible compares the Babylonian Empire to a lion, the Persian Empire to a bear, the Greek Empire to a many-headed leopard and the Roman Empire to a mighty beast. In Revelation 13 and 17, we also see nations in the end time depicted with the attributes of wild beasts.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, today's most powerful nations are also traditionally compared to animals: the United States to an eagle; Russia to a bear; China to a dragon; and the European Union, as some of its coins depict, to a woman (Europa) riding a bull.
Consequently, it is important when analyzing world events to take into account the national character of a people.
Again, Professor Morgenthau showed great insight when he stated: "National character cannot fail to influence national power; for those who act for the nation in peace and war, formulate, execute, and support its policies, elect and are elected, mold public opinion, produce and consume—they all bear to a greater or lesser degree the imprint of those intellectual and moral qualities which make up the national character.
"The 'elementary force and persistence' of the Russians, the individual initiative and inventiveness of the Americans, the undogmatic common sense of the British, the discipline and thoroughness of the Germans are some of the qualities which will manifest themselves, for better or worse, in all the individual and collective activities in which the members of a nation may engage" (p. 133).
In regards to Europe, which has a key role in Bible prophecy, it's well worth remembering what journalist Luigi Barzini wrote about national character in 1983: "The future [of Europe] is in the laps of the gods. It will probably be decided, once again, by Germany's decisions. And Germany is, as it always was, a mutable, Proteus-like, unpredictable country, particularly dangerous when it is unhappy" (The Europeans, 1983, p. 267).
The moral: Nations have a type of behavior all their own—so don't forget to take it into account.
This brings us to the fourth key.
4. Each nation seeks a balance of power to offset dominance by others.
The balance of power is a key element to understand how nations act. Alliances are frequently formed to offset other power centers.
As historian J. Allen Smith explains: "The fact that no country alone is sufficiently strong to feel secure against any possible combination of opposing states makes necessary the formation of alliances and counter-alliances through which each state seeks to ensure the needed support in case its safety is menaced from without" (The Growth and Decadence of Constitutional Government, 1930, p. 241).
We see this formation of end-time alliances in the description of the feet of the image that depicts the last of the world empires described in the book of Daniel.
Daniel 2:41-44 says: "Just as you saw that the feet and toes were partly of baked clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom; yet it will have some of the strength of iron in it [strong nations or peoples], even as you saw iron mixed with clay [weak nations or peoples]. As the toes were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay. In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed" (New International version).
The Expositor's Bible Commentary says about Daniel 2:43, "The text clearly implies that this final phase will be marked by some sort of federation rather than by a powerful single realm."
The moral of this fourth point is: When analyzing world news, it's important to take into account the alliances made by the different nations—noting that they have their self-interest at heart.
Coming changes in human nature
So does this leave us with a pessimistic view of world events? Not at all! It is rather a realistic perspective of the present global situation but an optimistic outlook in the long run.
We do know we will see a coming time of great distress due to nations acting like predators against other nations (Matthew 24:7, 21). But the good news is, these four key points based on man's present human nature will finally be changed for the good after Jesus Christ's return!
What are some of the key changes He will bring?
Human nature will finally be changed and Satan will be put away. George Washington, quoted above, mentioned self-interest would be the main motivator of the politics among nations because "we must in a great measure, change the constitution of man, before we can make it otherwise."
The Bible promises just such a change in "the constitution of man"—his fundamental makeup—beginning at Christ's coming: "But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:33).
Also, at that time, Satan the devil will be put away and no longer sway nations to follow selfish and violent ends (Revelation 12:9; 20:1-3).
Nations will not seek self-interest, but the interest of others. Once the nations are converted and receive God's Spirit, they will no longer view themselves as rivals, but as colleagues. They will all seek to obey God and end war.
We read of this profound change in national attitudes in Isaiah 2:2-4: "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths,... They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
National character will not be used to oppose, but to build up. Having changed their human nature, nations will instead use their talents to cooperate and build each other up.
We read in Isaiah 19:23-24: "In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, 'Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.'"
There will be no more need for balance of power; there will be only one power over all the earth. All nations will learn God's ways and keep God's holy feasts together in harmony and peace. Jesus Christ will be the head of government over the entire world, and there will be no competing powers.
We read in Zechariah 14:9, 16: "And the Lord shall be King over all the earth... And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles." In learning to worship the true God in the way He commands in His Word, the Bible, all nations will finally learn the way to true peace and cooperation with one another.
Be alert and on guard
Some tectonic shifts in world politics have occurred in the past decades, and important events are occurring now. Jesus Christ tells us that we need to be alert to such things and spiritually on guard as the time of His return draws close (Mark 13:33-37). Consider these four keys to avoid going off track or being deceived by carnal political or religious leaders. Power politics is a reality, and it's vital to keep our eyes open and our perspectives firmly grounded in biblical truth.
As Christ admonished us, let's intelligently watch what happens around us and always be in an attitude of praying, "Your Kingdom come"! WNP